Poll Analysis: Should All Taking the Three Refuges Commit to the Five Precepts Too?

Here is an analysis of the poll question ‘Should All Taking the Three Refuges Commit to the Five Precepts Too?’ As of today, the results are:

66% : Yes
20% : Doesn’t matter
07% : No
07% : Dunno

In the Theravada tradition, the 5 precepts are taken with refuge. In the Mahayana tradition, the precepts are optional when taking refuge. When the precepts are taken in the Mahayana tradition, one can choose to take 1,2,3,4 or all 5 precepts. Which is right or better on the priority of observing the precepts? The Theravada or the Mahayana tradition? Each has its own rationale for conducting refuge and precept ceremonies the way they do. An idealist at heart will see directly the sensibility of taking precepts in full with refuge – for what is the meaning of committing to the Triple Gem for life while giving oneself leeway to live immorally?

But as the Mahayana tradition aims to reach as many as possible, it gives some compassionate leeway for those who wish to take refuge, but who are unsure about observing the precepts. It is better that someone ‘commits’ to the Triple Gem though he or she has not yet made the resolution to observe the precepts, than to not commit to the Triple Gem at all. If one feels unready in terms of upholding morality as according to the precepts, he can choose not to take the precepts first. But if he or she is truly sincere in following the Buddhist way, he or she should actively work towards being able to observe the precepts fully in good time. Observation of the precepts is really a basic aspect of commitment to that central to Triple Gem – the Dharma.

Whatever tradition one follows, it is universally recognised that to take refuge and observe the precepts in full is better than just taking refuge. Likewise, it is better to observe 5 precepts than just 4, better to observe 4 than 3, better to observe 3 than 2, better to observe 2 than 1, and better to observe 1 than none! What matters is to continually working towards perfecting morality. It is also better to commit to observing the precepts in full as it further serves as a moral deterrent, since whether one has committed to observing the precepts or not, the effects of karma from being immoral are still there.

We also have to remember that morality is just the first aspect of the Threefold Training towards Enlightenment – which should lead to the practice of concentration and the attainment of wisdom. In the Mahayana path, there is also the emphasis of cultivating and perfecting compassion so as to be able to help others in their Threefold Training. For this, the practice of upholding morality is crucial.

Related Articles:

The Five Wonderful Precepts ~ Key to Moral Happiness
The 5 Precepts & 5 Ennoblers
Story of the Notorious Five (A Tale for Children)
The Danger in Not Observing the Fourth Precept
The Danger of Not Observing the Fifth Precept